Another Step-by-Step Approach

I always like to see progressions of paintings when they are shown in a step-by-step process from start to finish. I don’t care who’s painting them, they are fun to see. To me, they’re a little addictive — sort of like “before and after” makeup or hairstyle photos in women’s magazines. I can’t resist looking at them.

So in that vein, here is another step-by-step chronicle of my latest painting, again a full sheet watercolor of tulips (see my last post). At 29″ tall by 21″ wide, it took a long time to finish, but I enjoyed every step of the process.

First, I took the reference photograph on a trip to Buchart Gardens on Victoria Island some years ago. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the bright light was intense. I wanted to take a close-up photo that had an abstract quality to it, and I think this photo met that challenge. I pieced together black and white copies of sections of the photo and taped them into one big image… on a painting this size, it would have taken days to execute the drawing freehand, so just tracing an outline made more sense.

photo of tulips

This is the original photo I took at Buchart Gardens.

Next, I transferred the drawing to my paper, in this case Arches 300# cold press watercolor paper. It’s stiff and doesn’t buckle when wet. I stapled the sides to my gator board so I would have a stable surface to paint on, then I masked out the flowers. Since they are in reds, oranges, and yellows, I wanted to make sure I could paint the background blues, greens and purples freely without the difficulty of having to paint around the flower shapes. Masking them (using masking film that I cut with an exacto blade and masking fluid to seal the edges), allowed me to do an underpainting by painting right over them.

Masked drawing

Here is the drawing with the flower shapes masked out.

I did the background underpainting after first wetting the paper all over with clear water. I wanted a fluid blending of the base colors, and painting on a wet surface assured that. When the underpainting dried, I started filling in the shadows in various shades of purple — getting some darks down right away made it easier to tell where I was in the painting, which can be difficult when painting a large image with lots of small shapes. Putting purple shadows down first is one way to get definition quickly. I also added teal in various places because I saw so much of it in the original photo and I love the color.

Background underpainting

After the under painting was completed, I added some of the darker
shadows for better visual orientation.

Once the background was fairly complete, I removed the masking and started on the flowers one at a time. Using a loaded brush, I painted in the various colors, letting them blend together along wet edges while softening other edges with a damp brush.

First flower painted

I started to feel better once I got my first flower in.
It really started to take on life to me.

Finally, I added the finishing touches… darkening some of the shadows, lifting some of the lighter highlight areas, glazing over other areas to tie shapes and colors together. This was the last stage of the painting process, and what fun it was!

The final painting... I'm pretty happy with it.

The final painting… I’m pretty happy with it.

Recently I started painting in a looser, more opaque approach… very different from the realism you see here. I really enjoy painting in this new way and will definitely continue developing this new style. One day I will post some of those paintings on this site, too. In the meantime I will always love painting realistically — it’s such fun to see something that moves me and then spend my time figuring out how to paint what I see.

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